The U.S. Army celebrated a field artillery milestone in October 2020, when the 500th High Mobility Artillery Rocket System rocket launcher powered out of the industry-partner’s production facility in Camden, Arkansas.
HIMARS stands as a combat-proven mainstay in the Army’s fleet of launchers and supports one of the Army’s top modernization priorities – Long Range Precision Fires. The rocket launcher provides close- and long-range precision rocket and missile fire support for joint forces, early-entry expeditionary forces, contingency forces and field artillery brigades supporting brigade combat teams. Showcasing its strength and lethal payload, HIMARS is deployed in theatres worldwide. Currently, 363 HIMARS serve with Army units, 47 are fielded with the U.S. Marine Corps, and by January 2021, a total of 118 HIMARS launchers will integrate into many international partners’ military forces.
“We have an incredible team across the country dedicated to the continued success of HIMARS,” said Col. Guy Yelverton, III, Program Executive Office Missiles and Space, Strategic and Operational Rockets and Missiles Project Office project manager. “As a field artilleryman myself, I am very proud of our combined efforts to field HIMARS to Soldiers in field artillery units around the world, and FA men and women in training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.”
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Yelverton also noted Project Office STORM’s Deputy Project Manager Bradley Huhlein takes unique pride in the mission to deliver HIMARS to Soldiers in training at Fort Sill, as his son recently began field artillery officer training there.
HIMARS originated in the 1980s as a concept to meet the Army’s need for a lightweight Multiple Launch Rocket System. The first HIMARS mockup was fabricated in 1991 using a 5-ton Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles truck chassis, a framework that is still used today. In 1998, this prototype launcher fired several fire missions and proved the feasibility of C-130 transportability. These initial phases demonstrated to Army leadership the significant potential of the HIMARS launcher and future implementation to support the Army-at-War test philosophy.
By mid-1998, four launcher prototypes were designed and hand-built with three launchers fielded to the XVIII Airborne Corps’ 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, 18th Field Artillery Brigade, located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The unit successfully participated in the Rapid Force Projection Initiative Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration Field Experiment at Fort Benning with a two-year Extended User Evaluation effectively conducted and completed using these HIMARS prototypes. With the launchers meeting and exceeding all performance requirements, the XVIII Airborne Corps requested to retain the systems until the next generation production launchers were deployed to the 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, in June 2005.
Furthermore, the Marine Corps test unit was issued engineering and manufacturing development HIMARS launchers for additional testing at Fort Sill. HIMARS went on to successfully serve in combat for Operation Iraqi Freedom in support of Coalition Forces and Operation Enduring Freedom. The launcher has also proven its capabilities with foreign operators, serving in the field with U.S. allies and partner nations.
Production ramped down in 2013, then shifted into high gear in 2018 when the Fiscal Year Report to Congress identified a near-term platform fielding expansion of HIMARS was necessary to sufficiently meet the Joint Force’s demand and combat near-peer adversaries. Currently, new launchers are in full rate production and rolling off the production line in Camden. Foreign Military Sales launchers are currently being delivered with U.S. launchers to arrive next year. The reset team at Red River Army Depot, Texas, and the overhaul team at Letterkenny Army Depot, Pennsylvania, keeps the existing fleet of launchers in top form. Due to new sub-vendors fabricating and welding the crew cabs, a successful live fire was recently conducted at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland.
While the launcher still asserts much of its legacy wheeled design, HIMARS has evolved to remain an overwhelming force on the battlefield. To enhance user interface, ensure safe execution of fire missions and provide commonality among launcher systems, HIMARS has been equipped with substantial software and hardware upgrades over the last several years. Modernized government owned, tested and fielded launcher software now enables new munition capabilities for the Warfighter. The Universal Fire Control System conducts all existing and future fire missions of the MLRS Family of Munitions such as the Army Tactical Missile System, Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System and most recently, the Precision Strike Missile. Presently, STORM Project Office is spearheading the fire control system’s next iteration, the Common Fire Control System, which will overcome obsolescence and offer commonality between both the HIMARS and MLRS launchers.
Extensive hardware improvements include the Increased Crew Protection cab which meets the survivability requirement for ground combat vehicles and provides Soldiers who are operating in theater the necessary protection against Improvised Explosive Devices. Another barrier added was the sapphire glass, a bulletproof protective material. The glass was initially found in aircrafts and optimized for the HIMARS crew cab. HIMARS also boasts a carrier chassis which was built from the ground up.
“Regard for HIMARS outside of the Army has grown,” said Dan Folk, Field Artillery Launchers Product Office acting product director. “Supporting the 2017 Grow the Army initiative, 25 new launchers were approved for the Marine Corps. Developments with the Marines and Navy have been ongoing to fully integrate HIMARS into ship-to-shoot scenarios, a diverse competency unique to this launcher, and our FMS customers have procured launchers since 2017.”
The HIMARS workforce heritage runs deep as several current teammates who still support the launchers were part of the original team and brought HIMARS to life. Soldiers, civilians and industry partners alike conserve its history and share their collective knowledge with the next generation.
“HIMARS is a tribute to the dedication and commitment of those who have developed, tested, built, fielded and operated this battle-tested, lethal and highly responsive rocket launcher,” said Darryl Colvin, PEO Missiles and Space deputy program executive officer, who served as a lieutenant colonel and product manager for the Field Artillery Launchers Product Office HIMARS program when the launcher first deployed. “I congratulate and appreciate the broad team for supporting the HIMARS mission and delivering this critical capability to the Warfighter.”
HIMARS launcher addresses Army readiness, now and in the future, to achieve overmatch, deter threats and win the future fight, Colvin said. Through constant preservation and innovative progression, HIMARS flexes its strength on the military frontlines and enables global Joint All Domain efforts.